Abilify Cases on Track for First Bellwether Trial to Begin June 18

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As parties involved in the federal Abilify gambling lawsuits prepare cases for the first bellwether trials set to begin this summer, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation has extended certain discovery deadlines.

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals currently face about 600 product liability lawsuits over failure to warn about the risk of compulsive behavior problems with Abilify. However, as lawyers continue to investigate and file claims over the coming months, it is ultimately expected that more than 1,000 cases will be brought by individuals who have suffered devastating gambling losses after use of the atypical antipsychotic.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the Abilify litigation is currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, for coordinated discovery and a series of early “bellwether” trials, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

In an order issued on March 12, Judge Rodgers has granted a joint proposal submitted by the parties to extend certain discovery deadlines. However, the court did not agree to move the dates for Daubert hearings on challenges to the admissibility of certain expert witness testimony, and the first in a series of three Abilify bellwether case is still scheduled to go before a jury starting on June 18.

The Court has not yet determined order for first three bellwether cases, as the parties submitted competing proposals about the selection process last week, after they were unable reach a joint agreement.

The plaintiffs’ proposal (PDF) calls for the Court to decide the order, based on which case is the most representative of the litigation as a whole.

“Plaintiffs’ proposed approach is simple,” the proposal states. “The Court (not the parties) should make the determination as to the appropriate order of trial based upon on one guiding principle: which trial (and subsequent jury verdict) will be most helpful in providing both sides the necessary information to make a candid assessment of their respective positions and thus help facilitate the ultimate resolution of the now approximately 600 cases in this MDL.”

However, the drug makers’ proposal (PDF) calls for a more slightly involved process, taking the three potential cases and allowing each side to “strike” one case, with the remaining case being the first to go to trial, with the order of the other two cases decided by the Court.

“Through this process, neither side would choose their ‘best’ case first,” the defense proposal states. “And each side would ensure that the case it views as the ‘outlier’ — or least representative — will not be tried first.”

While the outcomes of these early trials will not be binding on other plaintiffs, they are being closely watched by Abilify lawyers involved in the litigation, as the may influence potential settlement negotiations to avoid the need for additional trials in courts nationwide.

Each of the complaints raise similar allegations that information was withheld from users and the medical community about the risk that the atypical antipsychotic drug may cause users to experience uncontrollable urges to gamble, shop, engage in risky sexual activity or other destructive behavior.

Plaintiffs maintain that the drug makers knew or should have known about the link between Abilify and gambling addictions, which may emerge shortly after starting use of the drug or increasing the dose. If proper warnings had been provided, plaintiffs claim that they may have avoided substantial financial losses, which have had a devastating impact on their financial stability.

At the same time Abilify cases are moving forward in the federal MDL, a parallel state court litigation has been established in New Jersey, where Superior Court Judge James De Luca is presiding over all cases filed in the state, and established a bellwether track where the first trials could begin by the end of 2018.

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